Southeast Asia, the name spells out the charm of a tropical landscape, vibrant versatility, and romantic getaways that you can ever think of. From playing a significant part in history, the region of Southeast Asia is everything and more than you have read in any travel or history books. I have previously shared a guide on the best way to see Thailand in 3 weeks, or unmissable experiences in Phuket, to reasons why you will love Bangkok.
We started out exploring with Beijing but depending on where you are flying from, you can also start with Thailand or Cambodia. Below is also a quick glance at the 3-week itinerary of Southeast Asia.
3-Week Southeast Asia Itinerary At A Glance
I am sure backpacking Southeast Asia in 3 weeks is on many people’s bucket list below is a quick glance at the how to spend 3 weeks in Southeast Asia visiting China for quick exploring before embarking on Cambodia, Thailand with the possibility of extending to Vietnam.
- Beijing – 2 days
- Cambodia – 4 days
- Bangkok Phuket & Krabi – 2 weeks
Week 4: Optional Addition
- Vietnam – 5 days
Southeast Asia 3 Week Itinerary
Below is a detailed guide for how to do Southeast Asia itinerary in 3 weeks.
WEEK 1 Beijing & Siem Reap
Day 1-2 in Beijing
The 3 weeks in Asia kicks off with Beijing. Getting to Beijing is easier than you think since it has access via air from airports across the world like that of Amsterdam, Chicago, London, Delhi, etc. We had flown in from Budapest but have just easily done this is from London.
Since the next stop is Cambodia after Beijing, you can apply for 72-Hour visa exemption at the Beijing Capital Airport. Using this free visa, you can travel through Beijing and visit the local sights. However, this 72-Hour visa exemption will be applicable to the people from selected countries only. So, make sure that you read my post for additional details as you apply for the visa to Beijing and even as you purchase the next ticket to Cambodia. This gives you around two days and a half in Beijing, which will allow you to travel through top tourist attractions in Beijing.
The Forbidden City and Imperial Palace: The first destination to explore on foot has to be the sprawling and mystifying palace that has been around since the illustrious Ming dynasty. There plenty of tours in Beijing to help you make the most of your time. Of course, the actual palace had been burnt and then in the 18th century, it was built back to its present glory.
One thing that you will find is its impressive facade and glamour complete with interesting murals and artistic decor everywhere you see. The absence of the trees in the main central courtyard will be revealed before you the actual dimensions of the palace. Many gates have nine gilded and very ornately decorated doors.
The names that these gates and halls have like the Gate of Divine Prowess, the Meridian Gate, are sure to inspire you in some way or the other. The Five marble bridges and the highly decorated gold throne of the Imperial Palace are all things to take snaps and stows away in your memory.
From here, visiting yet another marvel is The Great Wall of China. However, as you travel to the historic spot, you can have a platter of the famous dumplings or Peking Roast Duck. There are scores of malls and markets within the city that you might drop in to have a grand time shopping.
The Great Wall of China: It is an architectural wonder and the only manmade monument that is visible to space. This is truly something and when you visit it, the wall is going to astound you. Of course, you cannot walk the entire length, but you can surely visit a portion of the wall that passes through the north of Beijing city. The wall gets names to the places it passes through, and so you can visit one of the sections like Badaling Great Wall, Mutianyu Great Wall, Simatai Great Wall that passes through Beijing. The opening times of these sections through the wall are different, and so it is better to get a tour to Great Wall or a local guidebook or the tour operators for a drive to these sections of the wall.
One of the Zhou dynasty’s dukes between 770 and 221BC commissioned the wall. Then the actual work and the Great Wall that we see today came up during the Ming dynasty. Through the length from the wall, there are watchtowers and fortresses to ensure that the earlier monarchs kept an eye open for the advancing enemies.
A captivating visual treat is this visit to the Great Wall. The entry is closed for the evening, and so you must not make a plan to visit it very late in the evening.
Tian’anmen Square: The “Gate of Heavenly Peace” or Tian’anmen Square is one of the highlights of Beijing city. As a city center, Tian’anmen Square played a major role throughout the Chinese history. This is one of the largest squares of its kind throughout the world for the biggest rallies and parades. The Gate of Heavenly Peace of Tian’anmen Square gate is on one side, and the Great Hall of the People on the other side makes it a stunning place to visit at sunset. You can see the hoisting of the Chinese flag in the morning and the lowering of it in the evening completely in a ceremonial way.
As you wrap up your stay in Beijing, try to visit one of the many markets in Beijing like Panjiayuan Flea Market, Hongqiao Pearl Market and more to shop for everything from superior bags, fashionable clothes, and other accessories. After all of these, you can get ready for your next Southeast Asian destination of Cambodia.
Also Read: Things To Do In Beijing In Winter
Pro Tip: You can easily search for flights with super long layovers on Expedia or if you take a direct flight to Beijing you can then hop on the budget airlines to Cambodia.
Day 3-7 In Cambodia
The country of Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia, and it is a peninsula, which has Laos on one side, Thailand on the other and Vietnam on the third side. The Khmer Dynasty ruled over the country for over 600 years during which the country had developed culturally and otherwise. It saw the influx of two very popular religions Hinduism and Buddhism leading to the rise of many majestic temples that you must certainly make a point to visit.
Day 3 and Day 4 Sihanoukville: Sihanoukville in the north has a plethora of beaches, and if you cannot do without your dose of beaches, then this is where you can stay and start with first. There are many beaches in this strip like the Koh Pos. There is a small bridge leading you from the mainland to the Koh Pos where you can simply relax by the beach or visit one of the shacks and dive in some of the fantastic seafood like Fish Amok, Kampot Pepper Crab, or other delicacies like Khmer Red Curry, or Nom Banh Chok in its genuine form.
Among the beaches, Cambodia will not disappoint and here in the Sihanoukville area itself, you can find Victory Beach, The Serendipity Beach, Ochheuteal Beach, and other such beaches.
Also Read: What To Wear In Cambodia
Day 5 -7 Siem Reap: Your 3 weeks in SE Asia is incomplete without a visit to Siem Reap. Besides the beaches and the abundance of it, there are other attractions like the Angkor Wat temples. Head off to Siem Reap by air or by road as per your wish and time. Siem Reap has a great concentration of temples that have Hindu roots and even strains of earliest Buddhist art and architecture flowing around.
Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia are an attraction and is one of the iconic symbols of Cambodia in any tour guidebook. The Angkor Wat temples are one-of-a-kind and nothing left in the world like these in Cambodia. The Ta Prohm temple in Siem Reap is among the most famous temples as it was featured in the Tomb Raider movie. The temple submerged in the tight embrace of trees within a forest is what adds to the beauty of this temple.
Last but not the least, the Preah Khan temple is another important place that you might wish to visit whose architectural genius will stay with you for a lifetime. There are plenty of things to do in Siem Reap beyond Angkor Wat temples too. In addition, I have also shared tips on the best locations to stay in Siem Reap.
Also Read: How To See Cambodia In 7 Days | Spoiler Alert! Things No One Tells You About The Angkor Wat Sunrise
WEEK 2 – Thailand, Bangkok, Phuket
Day 8-11 Bangkok: Now that you have had your fill of the mystic land of Cambodia, get ready to enjoy more of it, and embrace the stark diversity as you enter Thailand. While Cambodia has, a charm of its own, Thailand is more boisterous as a tourist spot, and it does not disguise its intentions at any cost.
So, the first stop in Thailand will be in the bright and welcoming capital of Bangkok. Here you can spend at least 2 days. The city has gained fame for its beach resorts, and the massage and Thai spas that everyone in the world knows about. You too can start your trip on a refreshing note by signing up for a spa here. I have shared a guide on the best areas to stay in Bangkok to make the process of finding a place easy. If you do stay in Bangkok longer, I highly recommend considering Airbnbs in Bangkok. Then you can proceed with your sightseeing trip in Bangkok.
The golden temple dome of Wat Arun must definitely be on your trip. Stop by and find yourself drawn to this magnificent shimmery gold temple located by the Chao Phraya river.
If it is not yet noon, then you can surely visit the Grand Palace and even stop by to pray and be more mesmerized by the Emerald Buddha temple. Now that the day is coming to an end, a trip to the most beautiful Bangkok Ocean World will reveal before you the best marine life that thrives in these parts.
Begin the next day with a trip to the Wat Pho temple, where you can find a golden statue of reclining Buddha. This is a must-visit on your trip here.
The next must-go to destination is the Floating market, at the Khlong Lat Mayom, or the Bang Khu or various other places. You can try one of their local fruit juices or simply hang around to experience. There are plenty of tours from Bangkok to the floating market I recommend leaving early!
Next, you can proceed to shop like crazy in one of the many markets and malls. The bustling Chinatown or the Chatuchak markets every weekend are the ideal hubs to shop for anything local. My Bangkok & Phuket itinerary also shares tips on cool things to do in Bangkok at night.
WEEK 3 – Phuket, and Krabi
Day 12-16 Phuket
One of the best aspects of visiting Phuket is you will find that you cannot help but relax. You can enjoy the city in four days, with a couple or more days devoted to experiencing the beaches that dot this mountainous island.
You can start for the Patong city and spend time going for one or the other water sports like snorkeling, surfing or even going for parasailing. Then proceed to have lunch at one of the many shack restaurants before heading out to the famous James Bond Island. The stunning rocky cliff emerging out of the waters and more of beautiful shoreline will wow you here.
From here if you go to Patong City, then do not forget to stroll through the bright Soi Bangla road where you can get the best of pubs, bars, cabarets and everything in between. You can even spend a day exploring the Portuguese homes of the Old Town part from the city.
The next morning you can start on a visit to the Phang Nga Bay where the limestone cliffs and romantic rocky caves abound in the rainforest area. Then move on to Koh-Phi or the Phi-Phi Islands. This is a gorgeous island, and it is surrealistically beautiful. Spending a day or more in one of these many islands should ideally be on your wish list.
Also See: Best Areas To Stay In Phuket
Day 17-21 Krabi Islands: Do not hesitate to spend at least four days here they say, and you can get here from Phuket via the speedboat. You can directly come to the Krabi islands from the Phi Phi islands. Krabi islands are perhaps one of those places that is a complete package when it comes to offering the most attractive destinations.
The places include Railay Island, Phai or Bamboo Island, where you can have a grand time sailing or even exploring the forests. Do not miss on the Emerald Pool and then visit the Buddhist temple or Tiger Cave for you to do some soul-searching.
Also See: Best Beachfront Villas In Phuket
Alternative South East Asia Itinerary
Vietnam: After a visit to Thailand, and soaking in the sights and sounds of Thai beaches, you shall now find more variety in Vietnam. Vietnam offers nature lover plenty of unique sights. There are interesting places to visit like Halong Bay and take to the many amazing Halong Bay cruises the place is famous for.
You can spend a day here, exploring many caves and dense forests along the beach that overlooks one of the best beaches in these parts. Nha Trang is another grandly picturesque spot that you must not miss. Besides the beaches, there are mountains and plenty of tourist attractions to entertain you for those wishing to explore for longer.
After the beaches, you can check out the urbanized region of Hanoi. Here, you can come across the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, and the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh will take you to the pre-independence era. A day trip to Ho Chi Minh City will be a great option for you to check out the World War memorials and explore the local markets and nightlife that set a pace with the city. For tips on Hanoi tours check out this cool guide.
You can conclude the Southeast Asia itinerary with a visit to the mountainous destination of Dalat before you pack your bags. Southeast Asia has the places that are every bit soulful and even in the modern metropolis, you will find serenity unlike any other
Southeast Asia Tour Packages | Planning Your Trip To South Souteast Asia
Package Tours To southeast Asia:
- GAdventures: They cater to travelers from 18 and over and offer a wide range of itineraries many starting as short as 3 days to 3 months long.
- Contiki: They cater to 18-35-year-olds and have a wide range of tours from week-long to 3 months long. Plenty of options for Southeast Asia guided itineraries. If you are on the younger side, I highly recommend Contiki as they facilitates fun tours beyond your typical Southeast Asia backpacking itinerary in 3 weeks.
- Wendy Wu: Mainly cater to the over 30s but also have a wide range of trips beyond SouthEast Asia but a wide variety of itineraries to choose from.
- Viator: Pick and mix tours to suit the schedule and budget for your trip. From adventure to relation tours to food. The list is endless here.
Southeast Asia Trip Planning Essentials
- Search for flight deals to Asia via Expedia or Ebookers.
- Search for hotels deals within your travel budget via Booking.com
- Dont leave without travel insurance. Check out Travel Supermarket.
- If you have a layover in Bangkok, Dubai or Heathrow check out my airport guides.
Heading To Asia? Also Read:
- How To See Hong Kong And Macau In 4 Days
- Things To Know Before Visiting Cambodia
- How To See Kuala Lumpur In 2 Days
- Guide To Renting A Car In Langkawi
- Couples Guide Phuket
- Best Tours In Bangkok
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